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From the vault: Classic Wimbledon moments (Part 1)

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Roar Guru
6 days ago
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In the normal world, tennis fans would’ve been preparing for the start of Wimbledon this week.

However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused nearly all sports worldwide to be suspended, and while a few competitions are only starting to get back up and running again, Wimbledon organisers made the decision nearly three months ago not to proceed with this year’s tournament.

It is the first time since World War II that the world’s most prestigious sporting event will not go ahead.

So, in the absence of any live tennis, sit back and enjoy as I look back at some of the greatest Wimbledon moments from this century.

This will be split into two parts. Here, I look back at Roger Federer’s rise to dominance at SW19, the moment a Russian teenager turned the tennis world upside down in 2004, and the epic 2008 men’s final between Federer and Rafael Nadal.

In Part 2, I will look back at Andy Murray’s two Wimbledon titles, as well as the pair of epic finals between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, and some of the biggest upsets to shake the tournament this century.

Roger Federer’s emergence and dominance at Wimbledon
The turning point in Wimbledon’s recent history came in 2001 when Pete Sampras, who had won the previous four titles and had triumphed on three other occasions, came up against a 19-year-old named Roger Federer on Centre Court.

The odds were heavily stacked against Federer, who was ranked 15th in the world, had never beaten a top-ten player at a major and had never played on Centre Court.

This was in stark contrast to Sampras, who had not only won Wimbledon seven times, but also went into this match having won his past 31 matches at the All England Club.

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What unfolded would prove to be a changing of the guard at world sport’s most famous postcode, as Federer would upset the great American in five sets over the course of nearly four hours.

Federer, who was seeded at a major for the first time in his career, subsequently lost his quarter-final against Tim Henman, and then bombed out in the first round the following year when he lost to Croatian qualifier Mario Ancic.

He would finally realise his potential in 2003, when he defeated Mark Philippoussis in straight sets to win his first major a month short of his 22nd birthday. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Swiss maestro would later achieve what Sampras was attempting to achieve in 2001, winning five consecutive titles between 2003-07 before he was dethroned by Rafael Nadal in the 2008 championship match (more below).

He was back on the champions’ podium 12 months later by defeating Andy Roddick in the 2009 final. He broke Sampras’ then-record of 14 major singles titles, and has since extended it to a men’s record 20, only one ahead of Nadal.

Federer would salute at Wimbledon only twice more since, winning in 2012 and 2017 at the expense of Andy Murray and Marin Cilic respectively. In addition, he finished runner-up four times – other than his loss to Nadal in 2008, he also fell to Novak Djokovic three times in 2014, 2015 and 2019.

Maria Sharapova’s coming of age
Another one of Wimbledon’s most memorable moments this century came in 2004 when a 17-year-old teenager named Maria Sharapova captured the hearts of tennis fans with an almighty upset of Serena Williams in the championship match.

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The Russian was playing in only her seventh grand slam tournament and stormed through the field to reach her first championship match, which saw her matched up against Williams, who was going for a third consecutive title at the All England Club.

The American, then aged 22, went into the match as a hot favourite, and had won their only previous meeting in straight sets at the Miami Open only three months earlier.

But in any sport, you always have to expect the unexpected, and that’s exactly what happened on Centre Court.

History will tell us that Sharapova won in straight sets – 6-1, 6-4 – in just 73 minutes, ending the Williams sisters’ four-year stranglehold on the Venus Rosewater Dish in the process (Venus won the title in 2000 and 2001, and Serena was the two-time defending champion).

By winning, Sharapova emulated Serena’s feat in winning her first grand slam title in her seventh appearance, and also at the age of 17 (Serena was only two weeks away from turning 18 when she won the US Open in 1999).

It proved to be a major stepping stone towards the Russian’s rise up the ranks – she would later ascend to the top of the rankings in August 2005 and finish her career having won five majors (the French Open twice, and the others once) and an Olympic silver medal.

Sharapova would defeat Serena only once more – in the championship match of the 2004 WTA Finals – before the American went on an unbroken 20-match winning streak that would last up until the Russian’s retirement earlier this year.

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The Russian was back for another tilt at the title in 2011, but she would fall short, losing to Czech left-hander Petra Kvitova in straight sets.

Rafael Nadal dethrones the Swiss maestro in 2008
After Roger Federer had won the previous five Wimbledon titles, one question was always going to be asked: could anyone dethrone the Swiss maestro at the All England Club?

They say to beat the best, you have to be at your best, and that’s what defined Rafael Nadal as he sought to reverse two losses to his Swiss rival in the 2006 and 2007 Wimbledon finals.

The Spaniard was out to ensure it was not third time unlucky, and having easily disposed of Federer in the French Open final the previous month (Nadal won 6-1, 6-3, 6-0), he fancied his chances of finally solving the Federer puzzle on the grass courts of Wimbledon.

Persistent rain delayed the start of the match by half an hour, and when play finally got underway, Nadal raced to a two-set lead, taking both sets by 6-4.

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As was to be expected, Federer started his fightback, and led 5-4 before a second rain interruption sent both players back into the locker room.

After an hour and 20 minutes, Federer took the next two sets, both in tiebreaks, saving two championship points in the fourth-set tiebreak, showing that he was not going to give up his crown without a fight.

It was in that fourth-set tiebreak that Nadal had the chance to win the championship on his serve at 5-2, only to hit a double fault and then net a backhand on consecutive points to peg it back to 5-4.

At 7-all, Nadal brought up championship point with a passing forehand winner, but Federer would hit back with a backhand winner that landed on the line, ensuring the match remained alive.

The Swiss maestro took the next two points to win the fourth set 7-6 (10-8), after which another half-hour rain delay saw the players return to the locker room.

When the players re-emerged from the locker room, night started to fall over the All England Club, and many wondered if the match could be completed on the day, or whether it would extend into a third Monday for the first time since 2001.

At one stage in the deciding set, Federer was two points away from winning his sixth consecutive Wimbledon crown, but Nadal would ultimately hold serve and then break the Swiss maestro’s serve in the 15th game.

The Spaniard would earn another championship point, at *40-30, but again Federer would deny him with a spectacular backhand return that forced deuce.

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A minute later, Nadal would seal victory when Federer put a forehand into the net, ending a magnificent Wimbledon men’s final after four hours and 48 minutes of game time at 9:15pm local time – six and a half hours after the first ball was struck.

Nadal thus became the first man from his country to win the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament since Manuel Santana in 1966, and the first Spaniard to do so in the Open era.

He also became the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to complete the Channel slam – that is, winning the French Open and Wimbledon consecutively. This had proven to be a challenge, because it requires a player to be the best on both surfaces within a six-week window.

Federer would achieve that feat in 2009, thanks to some help from Robin Soderling at Roland Garros, before Nadal did it again in 2010.

As was the case in 1981, when Bjorn Borg lost to a left-hander in attempting to win a sixth consecutive Wimbledon title (he was beaten on this occasion by John McEnroe), Federer’s run also came to an end at the hands of a left-hander – in this case, Nadal.

The Spaniard’s victory proved to be the forerunner to him winning the Olympic gold medal in Beijing a month later, and finally unseating Federer at the top of the rankings. The Swiss maestro had enjoyed the view on top for a record 237 consecutive weeks.

Nadal would defeat Federer again in the final of the 2009 Australian Open, after which it was clear that Nadal was now the man to beat.

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However, later that year he would be forced to forgo the defence of his Wimbledon crown due to a knee injury, and with Federer regaining his place on the champion’s podium, he also usurped Nadal at the top of the rankings.

That was Part 1 in my look back at some of the great Wimbledon moments of this century.

In Part 2, I will look back at Andy Murray’s 2013 and 2016 Wimbledon titles, the epic 2014 and 2019 championship tussles between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, and some of the greatest upsets of the modern era.